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Most people have online access to their employer portal, mortgage statements, and other information, so it’s easy to get started, says one advisor.Tero Vesalainen

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When the process of gathering information becomes too time-consuming, it can become a barrier to proper financial planning. Overwhelmed by what appears as an insurmountable task in their already jam-packed schedules, some clients might choose to skip the process altogether.

That’s why financial advisor Alaeddine Jabri, managing partner at Longevity Achieved in Mississauga, advocates asking precisely for what is needed – and not one statement more.

“Be a minimalist with the paperwork and go deep in the conversation,” he says. “Often, statements are needed merely to validate what we’ve already unearthed through our discussions.”

It’s tempting to think “more is better,” but it’s crucial to resist this urge because the more we request, the bigger the task appears, Mr. Jabri adds.

The mantra in this context is “get what you can when you can,” he says, whether it happens through e-mail, text messaging, or screen-sharing.

“If a document comes up during a conversation and the client has it on hand, we get them to share it immediately,” he says. “We’ve even designed templates for them with step-by-step instructions to navigate [the Canada Revenue Agency] and bank websites.”

Accessing information clients are not aware of

Sometimes, bypassing the client completely and contacting their accountant, lawyer or personal assistant directly, with their permission, is the best strategy.

“We do tell our clients we may need to communicate with their accountant and lawyer to work cohesively and ensure all our planning lines up with each professional’s work,” says Amrit Mavi, founder and partner of ATA Financial Group in Regina.

“This has paid off in dividends to our firm and clients as we may be able to acquire information that clients are not even aware of,” he says.

Mr. Mavi makes it clear to clients at every touch point that without providing certain information to him up front, he is unable to provide the thorough and timely advice they seek. In general, he requests copies of all relevant documents to be sent to him via e-mail before their first discovery meeting.

“If they’re unable to do that, I ask them to bring all relevant financial information with them to the meeting,” he says. “We also have spreadsheets to keep track of cash flow along with net worth that we are able to fill out together during the meeting.”

The sooner they get all the facts to us, the quicker we are able to help them and their family or business, he adds.

“Their cooperation also tells us how serious they are about engaging with our firm,” he says.

Meeting clients at home and checklists

Whenever possible, MaryAnn Kokan-Nyhof, division manager at IG Wealth Management in Winnipeg, prefers to meet at her clients’ homes, so all the documents she needs are close at hand. She provides them with a data collection checklist of what is required including such items as pensions, wills, powers of attorney, separation and divorce agreements, bank statements and notices of assessment.

Most people have online access to their employer portal, mortgage statements, and other information, so it’s easy to get started, she says.

“We have an amazing software program at IG [Wealth Management] called the Living Plan, and we complete it together with the client in real-time so it makes the process and plan more real, and they can see the changes as they’re implemented,” Ms. Kokan-Nyhof says.

She also sends out regular reminders.

“People are busy and have competing and conflicting priorities like we all do,” she says. “Never assume they don’t want to do it as it’s often something that has come up that prevents them.”

Updating information later

Even if some key information is missing, Ms. Kokan-Nyhof will create a “best guess” scenario with the understanding that it will be updated later when the actual numbers are provided.

“A start on a plan is better than nothing,” she points out.

Forging ahead with planning with only partial information at hand is a situation that’s not uncommon, Mr. Jabri says.

“In such cases, we’ll use industry standard assumptions and projections until we can input the personalized data,” he says. “Given the many components of the planning process, a missing piece here or there doesn’t halt everything.”

We can shift focus to other areas until we obtain what’s missing, he says. But the first thing we ask is, “Do we really need this?”

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